Interview: Bentley Systems SVP - Santanu Das


In a recent chat with Bentley’s Santanu Das (SVP: Design, Simulation, and Information Modelling) I asked him about AECOsim Building Designer, infrastructure, and client trends.

In terms of the CONNECT Edition of AECOsim Building Designer, what features are going to excite the building design community?

With reality modelling becoming pervasive throughout the industry, designers are moving away from 2D drawings and LiDAR technology to get information about a site or existing asset. They are now moving toward photogrammetry and drones to take hundreds of photographs of a site or asset quickly and easily which we have focussed a lot of our attention on.

How does the software facilitate this type of information?

With Bentley’s ContextCapture, our users can take thousands of photographs and produce a 3D model quickly. But the other area that we focused on was integrating this existing data with what you are modelling. This results in a hybrid of sorts, which allows you to generate your building model in AECOsim Building Designer and run ContextCapture using cloud technology to handle these large amount of data. The designer can stream what is relevant in AECOsim Building Designer, where they can operate in a hybrid mode and mix the "as-is" model with their proposed asset to make far better informed decisions.

How is collaboration facilitated?

We've added a lot of cloud services in all our CONNECT Edition products and what we found is that people really do want to collaborate and share information. They want to be notified when changes happen, and they also want to know how they are doing in any project in terms of other projects of a similar nature that they previously completed.

As such, we have added several CONNECTservices to AECOsim Building Designer that allow people inside or outside of the organisation to connect and share information readily. All our CONNECT Edition products now offer our users the services, support, and applications required to deliver a successful project. CONNECTservices provides adaptive learning services to master the use of Bentley applications through personalized, contextual learning, personal mobility to empower individuals to get work done from anywhere using Bentley’s mobile apps, and connection services that enable teams to connect and collaborate, and evaluate project status and performance.

We also have a ComponentCenter, which eliminates content duplication. For example, you might have the same pump created 55 different times and nobody really knows who has the right one. AECOsim Building Designer now integrates with ComponentCenter, giving project managers the ability to manage content that is already allowed or sanctioned on one type of project, based on performance and familiarity. Plus new data that is uploaded will also get managed and checked off. This is especially great for enterprises with different project types.

And this is all built on open standards?

ComponentCenter uses all of the data for any object type, and this is based on our iModel Schema, which is based on industry standards, such as IFC, or ISO 15926 etc.

Bentley spends a lot of resources to ensure that there is interoperability not only among our own applications but among third-party applications as well. This is the heart of the iModel as an exchange mechanism, and we are leading the way to define some common exchanges in underserved industries, such as water, airports, and rail.

I thought the Display Rules and Excel Exchange features were impressive, but what features were driven wholly by yourselves versus what features were actually requested by the industry? Who is leading who?

While there is an element of crystal ball gazing in all new developments, but the biggest feature that users want is ease of use. The marketplace agrees that AECOsim Building Designer is a powerful application for information modelling that does an awful lot and encompasses so many workflows. So in the CONNECT Edition, we revamped the entire user interface so that our users can really customize it.

Among the main features we have put out to the user is something called Project Insights, a cloud service that offers the ability for users to benchmark existing project efficiencies against previous projects on which they have worked. We really understand their data and we interpret it for them and present it back to them in a usable manner, similar to how your utility bill might be broken down by way of a consumption map. Clients can use this information to monitor their business better.

This clearly gets the most from the data. But what about security concerns?

Having our users understand that it’s their data and that we’re not making copies is critical – and that it is really all about getting the most out of the information for them and them alone – it is something that we are paying close attention to.  

So, many companies just don’t seem to look at their own data in this gigantic holistic manner?

Absolutely. Because we collect project data with Project Insights, we can now compare projects through a user’s enterprise as well as against industry averages. Organization never had access to this kind of project data before so easily.

Clearly this introduces another element of competitiveness. But that aside, ultimately almost all BIM software has a “wow factor” yet it is this type of data value and thinking that will propel BIM much further in the market. Do you agree?

Absolutely! CONNECTservices provides users with the ability to tell how the software is being used, who is being productive with it, if they are using the most optimal workflows, and so on.

As software improves, there has been an uptick in Generative Components and especially in Computational Design, which brings with it an element of sophistication from a user perspective that surely changes the skillsets of an operator or designer going forward?

It does. By adding these elements into AECOsim Building Designer, we give our users the ability to optimize their designs, or what we call “optioneering.” There are thousands of ways to create many iconic buildings, but we must determine what the optimal design is from an energy, construction, or manufacturing perspective.

Previously, this required using several kinds of software, and there wasn’t the computational power or even the skillset to pull it off. So, only very few companies in the world could compete at that level. But, by integrating the computational design component gives the user a way to optimise their asset.

Does it bring a new skillset? Sure. But, these skills are also more widely distributed, and it avoids having to rely on one specialist who might be overburdened.

Are universities currently providing such “match fit” candidates right here and now?

Generally. Every engineer or architect coming out of university is very highly skilled in geometric analysis, and they also have a broad understanding, at least at a basic level, of programming or scripting. Having these skills is an advantage in a competitive job market.

Moving on to infrastructure, what trends have you observed in this sector in general, other than reality modelling and cloud services? How is Bentley positioning itself?

On the asset management side, we see owner participation bolstering the link from design to facilities management. In fact, the owner has more reason than ever to be involved, given that more sensor technology is being used, which gives them real-time feedback.

With geo-location, our software is now being used to run queries such as “show me all the pumps that have scheduled maintenance in the next six months,” and it finds them automatically in the reality model, bringing all of this information together so the user can make sense of it. This is something that we have been working hard on. Paving the way to tie it all into smart cities and intelligent infrastructure going forward.

Ultimately an entire IT infrastructure is needed to support the real infrastructure, which costs a lot more. When do you see governments using these modern methods day in day out? When is the seachange?

Most new infrastructure projects, especially those in Norway, Singapore, and Denmark, already have this IT infrastructure built in. So they can then determine when, for example, roads need to be widened or improved for example.

Utility companies are also implementing this technology to find leaks before they happen. This is a critical thing for these companies to be able to do, and this technology offers a 90 percent certainty of where a leak would occur in the next few months.

In the general scheme of things, are contractors and consultants “selling” BIM to clients as an additional cost and service, rather than promoting the benefits of BIM wholesale?

I think contractors and consultants will include an extra line item for providing a model, but I think that a lot of owners are requesting a 3D model. They see the benefits and value of maintaining an information model.

Sincere thanks again to Santanu and the Bentley team.

Watch out for more content and case studies from Bentley here and in the next issue of BIM Journal!

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